1) What the Hell is Oakland Measure II? & 2) The Comanche Trail Pipeline is a Big Bomb Under the Rio Grande and Other Things You May Not Know About Energy Transfer Partners

Posted on November 2, 2016

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Not a lot of time to write these days, but I did want to visit two issues that I think aren’t getting enough air time in my public sphere in Oakland—one local, one not so much.

Measure II is a Gentrification Stealth Bomb

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A transit parking lot named gentrification

Oakland’s root in “direct-democracy” means that either the populace or the city council can put initiatives on the ballot to be passed during general elections and made into law. By now, much has been written about the rent protection and so-called [but not really, surprise] police accountability initiatives.

Both promise to add minor protections for Oakland’s vulnerable populations–the former much more than the latter, which is saying a lot given that they are both woeful band aids for two intractable problems facing Oakland. While in general my calculus is to vote no on everything unless it is a slam-dunk, exquisitely crafted, structurally infallible legal clockworks forged from steel, I do want to draw some attention to one Measure in particular. Oakland Measure II, aka, the “What the Hell is This?” measure.

Information on Measure II is difficult to rend from google on even a good day, seemingly because it is of no interest to punditry, politician, or electoral advisory organization. Even the League of Women Voters has this paltry paragraph on it:

Measure II amends the Oakland City Charter to increase the maximum lease term on city-owned property from 66 to 99 years. This will assist developers of affordable housing to more easily secure the necessary financing to undertake their projects.

The LWV suggests voting it up, and of course, who doesn’t want to vote for things that will increase affordable housing. But will increasing Oakland’s maximum lease term from 66 to 99 years really spur more investment from developers into affordable housing in Oakland?

First, let’s look at the reason why the city is leasing, rather than selling its larger properties at the moment. Oakland is bound by its own charter to lease properties rather than selling them to developers, via Ord. 85324 passed in 2014—and to further follow a public process to determine when city land should be sold rather than leased.

The reason this is important right now is because the city council faced enormous embarrassment and possible legal challenges in the way it secretly and mendaciously attempted to sell the 12th street remainder parcel that became surplus after renovations of Lake Merritt. Of the many wrong turns taken by the council, a critical one was failing to follow its own legally binding process that favors leasing over selling.

Perhaps its true, as the city argued in its own resolution to place Measure II on the ballot, that a longer lease period will make Oakland properties more attractive to affordable housing developers. But its also hard to ignore that the city’s over-riding concern in II seems to be attracting a market rate housing developer to convert the Fruitvale BART parking lot into majority market rate housing.

While the maguffin for the Fruitvale Transit Village Phase 2 development is the Unity Council’s plan to build 80 units of affordable housing in a portion of the parking lot [Transit Village 2a], that project is tethered to the whims of the market rate developer–the Unity Council must find a market rate developer willing to take on the city’s leasing requirements so it can build its affordable units. This is even more important to the city now that the market rate developer previously interested in the the market rate 2b, L&M Development Partners, dropped out of project because it couldn’t make a large enough profit.

The city’s own report on the rationale for the Measure specifically names the Fruitvale Village, and also provides a letter from one of the affordable unit developers pleading the same case–L&M’s recent exit is the elephant housed in both texts.

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Fruitvale Transit Village 2a will create 80 affordable units and 14 market rate units. But when that is combined with the 181 market rate units approved for the 2b developer, the project total produces a staggering 200 units of market rate housing smack dab in the center of a working class neighborhood—one of the last in Oakland with an intact commercial center focused on local residents.

But its not just the gap between affordable and market rate development in this dubious enterprise that should worry affordable housing advocates. The types of units envisioneed here are designed to attract transitory, young singles rather than families—the vast majority of the units are studios, one and two bedrooms. Only 24 three bedroom units are contained in the project, all in the Unity Councils 2a. The new Transit Village will attract not only affluent renters, but a type that will have very little stake in staying in–and building–the community.

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The argument that the lease increase will produce more affordable units is a feeble one when considering that more than twice as many market rate housing units must be placed side by side with it in a particularly vulnerable neighborhood . It’s fine if the city wants to argue that a 99 year lease period will garner more market rate housing. That at least would be honest, though exactly the opposite of what people seem to be telling the council in countless meetings about gentrification.

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Anywhere but Wherever: Some Other Stuff Energy Transfer Partners is up to

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Native residents of San Elizario protest Energy Transfer Partners’ Comanche Trail Pipeline

Lots of amazing, troubling and confusing things seem to be happening at Standing Rock. I’m certainly not going to pretend I have any more idea of what’s going on there than anybody else. Between the Democratically-Subjugated organization of Bill McKibben 350.org; adventure tourists arriving from every side of the globe; and a large diversely-oriented coalition of native individuals, groups and political representatives, a lot of conflicting imagery and narratives have arisen. The tall-tale of of magic bison appearing from nowhere battles with the more realistic idea that committed Native activists are locked in a struggle over messaging, branding, tactics and goals.

The action at Standing Rock has produced an almost unprecedented outpouring of support and attention on the Sioux of North Dakota and the pipeline they are fighting. The fight has attracted Democratic-party orbiting fixtures such as former principled activist Van Jones. I’m with Her t-shirt wearing Bernie Sanders has made several appeals, along with his Pro-war , muslim-hating, homophobic creation, Tulsi Gabbard. And even Barack Obama has used the power of his office more than once to send messages about his preferred outcome.

But one thing it surprisingly hasn’t produced is any curiosity about what else Energy Transfer Partners might be up to at the moment. One ETP project in particular is remarkable in its scope. It has an outlaw’s disdain for local, state and federal government power and a total disregard for local residents. Energy Transfer Partners 190 mile long Comanche Trail Pipeline will connect natural gas produced in Texas to a sister pipeline from Mexico under the Rio Grande .

ETP has expropriated the El Paso Water District’s land to build Comanche. The pipeline has already negatively impacted the District’s irrigation canals, causing at least one to collapse. The Water District is currently suing ETP to stop the pipeline, and Homeland Security has also joined the suit because Comanche will burrow under a border fence. But remarkably, the judge presiding over the case has allowed ETP to continue construction, even as their work and final pipeline threaten vital bodies of water, including the Rio Grande.

ETP, whose CEO Kelcy Warren was bizarrely named to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission recently, seems completely invulnerable to any attempt, be it city or federal, to slow down the Comanche Trail Pipeline—it is destroying agricultural canals, tunneling under one of the principal river bodies in the United States, burrowing beneath a border fence and threatening the safety of towns like San Elizario.

ETP received a presidential permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May, 2016 to begin its project– a project that can be adapted to bring gas from other states into Texas and through to Mexico. No other government constraints seem to bind ETP’s project, as this amazing exchange, reported by the El Paso Times, between the mayor of San Elizario and an official from ETP illustrates:

With high volumes of gas set to run through the pipeline, San Elizario Mayor Maya Sanchez and others have expressed worries about a possible explosion.

Since they won’t give us specific technical details about the blast zone, we can only go on what happened in Cuero,” she said in an interview last month, referring to the explosion last year of another Energy Transfer Partners pipeline near Cuero, Texas.

In an email exchange last week, Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Granado said she couldn’t provide the size of potential blast zones because it depends on the size of the pipeline, the thickness of the pipe wall, the depth at which it is buried and the weather.

There are no figures to provide,” she said. “As stated below this is not a recognized regulatory term and not part of anything we are asked to provide to regulatory agencies.”

The explosion in Cuero of an ETP pipeline that Sanchez references “scorched a hill and melted nearly a half a mile of roadway.”

A presidential permit is granted by the State Department, it is an executive order from the President, and cannot be made without his approval or knowledge. That is, while Obama approved the construction of this potential bomb that will be placed below the Rio Grande and the ground water of El Paso and other areas, he was also publicly performing concern about ETP’s other efforts in South Dakota—efforts which may one day have Dakota gas connected to the Comanche Trail Pipeline even if rerouted. Remarkably, as well, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was recently revealed to have a sizable investment in ETP. This makes crossing the border without DHS permission, poisoning the surface water of Texas, expropriating private and public land and blowing up small farming communities all interests he shares with America’s first Muslim Socialist President.

The pipeline is opposed by nearly every conceivable interest–county, city, state, local. Even native american activists are protesting it. At the very least, this border-running, very blowupabble pipeline created by presidential fiat and supported by investor Donald Trump–and immune to all attempts at stopping it–makes an amazing story. The lack of interest is almost impossible to understand, though.

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